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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Triumph Italia: british power with an Italian touch

Gentleman drivers,

I have been looking around for quite a while trying to identify a car to talk about here, a model that could reflect the nature of this blog and its author, lost in between an Italian background and the passion for British car making tradition. I think I eventually found one, and that's the Triumph Italia.

To talk about the Italia, I could rely on the information available here and there on the Web, but I rather decided to reach out to one of the owners of the very few Italias ever made, and the even fewer still surviving in Italy. His support has been instrumental to this post, and although I will keep his name confidential, I want to thank him for that. What's important here is that through a valuable contribution like the one from this gentleman I can now tell you a proper story of driving and restoration passion, rather than opting in to a dry, Wikipedia-like report on a car model.

So this is how the #119th chassis of a 1961, steel bodied, Michelotti designed, and Vignale manifactured Triumph Italia looks like:

courtesy of Ugutsinda on Flickr

Isn't she a beauty? I don't know how to define it otherwise.

The Triumph Italia was actually inspired by my very same research for a well balanced mix between "Italian Art, and British sportscar technique" from its creator, the Naples-based Triumph dealership owner Mr. Ruffino. I like the idea of keeping that spirit alive.

 The history of the example featured in this post has very interesting ramifications, too.

The car has been sold new in Livorno Tuscany, and it only had 3 owners, the latest ownership having lasted for 15 years, before being sold to the current gentleman driver who decided to undertake a comprehensive, body-off restoration of the chassis in 2010. 

The Italia was designed by Michelotti along the lines used for the Maserati 3500 and others GT produced on an around the late 50ies, built on  TR3 engine and mechanics. It could then be assumed that the most part of the spares could be easily located in the Land of Sunshine. Well, that was not the case at all. On the contrary, while the British spares could be easily bought or found on the Web, everything relating to chassis and interiors have been defined by the owner as "practically impossible to spot", then everything that could not be purchased, had to be built from scratch starting from a destroyed sample or pictures available on books, manuals, or on the Web. 

And, even more interestingly, guess what part has been elected the most difficult to find on the market? the original ashtray (nothing less), the same that used to be made available on Maserati and Ferrari at the time. It took six months to have it finally installed.

This particular example featured here came with the overdrive, a valuable optional in early 60ies worth more than 150.000 Lire. 
When it comes to driving sensations, the Italian pride arises. The car is reported as being more pleasant to look at than to drive, and so heavy to make it closer to a car made back in the 40ies: the coetaneous Alfas have been described to me as space shuttles in comparison.  Having been myself owner of a TR3, and not being an Alfa lover at all, I tend to quote that I-am-driving-a-truck-rather-than-a-sportscar feeling, and I bet that the 1 ton chassis on a rather tiny car does not help the driving pleasure. It has a massive torque though: the car could be running at 100 km/h at 2.600 rpm: quite astonishing. And finally, the carburetors: some reports from the 60ies still refer to the SU H6 as being so bad that Mr. Ruffino tried to reach out to Ducati, in Modena, to have them modified and reach a satisfactory performance. The owner confirms that, telling us that a sudden change in climate, or a grinding halt, are sufficient to mess up hours of work spent on calibration. 

On the other hand, what's really amazing, is its style. Remember this was a car bough by American customers under the disclaimer that no spares parts, other than the ones present in the Triumph USA network, could be made available to owners. So why buying that car, even more expensive than an original TR? Style. La Dolce Vita. Rarity. Interiors are wholly made in leather and make the passenger compartment look like a high-end living room rather than a cockpit. As said, some details came from the much more expensive Maseratis and Ferraris, too. 
The car has a superb balance granted by the Michelotti's touch, and remains a dream car at still affordable market value, if compared with its rarity and the increasing collectors' interest about this gem of Italian and British history. 

Well, I hope I transmitted my enthusiasm about this contribution. I do believe in the added value of your experience, so please do not hesitate to share with me your stories, your sensations, your classic cars adventures.

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